Under civil forfeiture laws, police officers can take money from people with no proof of any wrongdoing, and without filing criminal charges. How does this work, and what happens to the money?
In the United States, the government uses two methods to seize cash or other property. The first, criminal forfeiture, requires that a person be convicted of a crime before his/her property is taken. The second, civil forfeiture, requires neither a conviction nor any proof of wrongdoing. Here, action is taken against a specific piece of property rather than a person
While the police only occasionally took advantage of civil forfeiture in the early 20th century, it truly exploded in popularity in the 1980s, with the rise of the War on Drugs. … The goal was to systematically dismantle the drug world by seizing cash. In the zeal of this anti-drug atmosphere, the low burden of proof required of civil forfeiture seizures was seen as an asset.
Beyond the troubling effects civil forfeiture has on innocent people, the law is inherently problematic: since the profits of these seizures are kicked back to the departments overseeing them, they have an incentive to ramp up their practices — often without professional discretion.
Source: How Police Officers Seize Cash From Innocent Americans